October 09, 2009
I realized today that titling this series of blog entries about our long-term 2009 Suzuki SX4 hatchback "Oregon Road Trip" is misleading. This is literally the only photo I have of the car in Oregon. The rest of the time it was locked up in a downtown Portland valet while I was busy driving other cars. The SX4 and I spent Wednesday night in Grants Pass, OR, but it didn't occur to me to take a picture of the car in the Holiday Inn Express parking lot. Sorry.
This is not to suggest that it wasn't a long trip. It lasted about 2,200 miles, and I'll have final totals with best, worst and average mpg on Monday morning. Yesterday was the longest single day with 850 miles of driving on Interstate 5, U.S. 199, U.S. 101, CA Hwy 299 and then Interstate 5 again. I'd never used 199 to cross into California from Oregon, and it's pretty lovely, though you'll see just as many redwoods if you use 101.
Before hitting the road yesterday morning, I wrote that performance is adequate with the car's 2.0-liter inline-4 and 4-speed automatic, and I stand by that today. However, I will say that after dealing with the numerous elevation changes along this route (varies between 1,000 and 5,000 feet), the continual planning and determination required to stay up to speed and complete passing maneuvers did get tiring. And a couple times I got stuck behind a V8-equipped truck or SUV on twisty sections only to have the other driver put his foot into the throttle when a passing zone appeared. Thanks.
Fortunately, the SX4's handling and ride quality make up for many an accelerative inconvenience.
October 08, 2009
When the 2009 Suzuki SX4 hit the 15,000-mile mark, we were climbing Interstate 5 through the Mt Shasta area. The first glimpse of Shasta always delights me, but the last time I came through here, I was in a 2006 BMW 330i, which undoubtedly added to the fun. And as we're all aware, this 2009 SX4 is down in the power department (143 hp at 5,800 rpm, 136 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm), and its four-speed automatic is down a couple forward gears.
I'm pleased to report, though, that the climb was very manageable. Suzuki provides manual access to all gears, and the transmission holds gears when it needs to. Killing the overdrive was enough on most grades, but when stepping out to pass particularly slow trucks, I would sometimes put it in second gear (which is fairly tall).
No question, though, there's a lot of engine noise when you're working the car like this, and the whole experience is a lesson in momentum. There's no relaxing here; you've got to carry plenty of speed with you and you've got to keep the throttle pretty close to wide open at all times. It certainly helps that the SX4 steers and grips as well as it does, because you can start your passes on the curves when 18-wheelers and Durangos are at their slowest.
I also didn't hesitate to take the SX4 on Everett Memorial Highway (the road up to the Mt Shasta trailhead), which has a few twists and some elevation gain. I wasn't setting any records with my pace, but thanks to the momentum game, I certainly wasn't holding anybody up.
September 15, 2009
I scurried away from our Santa Monica offices early yesterday morning to attend an automotive event just north of us in Thousand Oaks, CA. Leaving just after the sun rose, I was pretty much assured of avoiding any of our notorious L.A. traffic, so I decided to tackle my favorite roads above Malibu. These thin ribbons of asphalt wind their way up from the beach, high up into the Santa Monica Mountains, and back down the other side right to my destination.
The SX4 performed much better than I expected. It's steering was communicative and precise, the suspension inspired confidence and the brakes never faded. It was actually, dare I say, fun. One thing I did notice was its cow-like engine/exhaust noise. On the highway it emits a muted mmmmmmmmmoooooooooooooo. Downshifts sound more like a surprised cow - mmmmmmmooooOOOOOOOO! Hard acceleration made it sound like an angry cow - MMMMMOOOOOOOO!
Aside from the bovine histrionics, the overall driving dynamics challenged me to become a better driver. The lack of underhood power encourages go-kart-like driving in the canyons. Lose momentum and the engine bogs heavily. Saw away at the steering wheel and you scrub off even more speed. By the time I reached the other side of the mountain, I was driving smoother while keeping the SX4 in the power.
On a final note, when adjusting the tilt of the steering wheel, the column lacks support - either in the form of friction or weight-countering springs. Once you pull the adjustment lever, the wheel and column drop like an anvil. And boy, that thing is heavy. I'm not sure if something's missing or broken, but it definitely feels wrong. Granted, most owners won't be adjusting their wheel as much as we do in our long-term lot.
Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor @ 14,006 miles
June 03, 2009
After a long weekend with the 2009 Suzuki SX4, I feel compelled to chime in with our editor in chief. I wasn't sure I wanted to drive our SX4 through any turns, because I thought the body roll would drive me crazy.
But it didn't.
At a comfortable pace (and with the SX4's lack of accelerative pop, "comfortable" is about all you can manage), the hefty little hatch turns in smartly, exhibits good balance with minimal roll and offers a nice weightness through the steering wheel. The experience bordered on fun. Mind you, on this road, I'd still prefer to drive our long-term Honda Fit, because it tops the Suzuki in sheer spunk (probably because it weighs 450+ pounds less).
I couldn't help but thinking how much potential there might be in the SX4 if Suzuki wanted to spend money developing the engine and chassis. And actually, Road Race has already developed a turbo kit for this car. And, as several of you have noted, there was a full-on rally version of the SX4 hatchback right up until Suzuki pulled out of WRC for 2009.
May 29, 2009
As Donna falls out of like with our 2009 Suzuki SX4, I think might be falling into like. I'm a long-time Fit fan and, up until today, I've never been able to get enthusiastic about the slow and heavy SX4. But after logging 130 highway miles, I think there's definitely something to the reports that Suzuki's hatchback might be the better highway car.
The SX4 outweighs the Fit by 450+ pounds, so it's no surprise the Suzuki feels more substantial and stable at 70 mph. And when you're in a very small car, but don't necessarily want to be driving a very small car, this is inherently comforting.
Also, when you're cruising down the highway, the SX4's steering is less reactive than the Fit's, with a stronger self-centering tendency, so you make fewer steering corrections.
Adding to the relaxation is the lack of engine noise at a cruise. But the arduous process of getting up to speed takes away some satisfaction. It's the classic scenario of not enough engine (a 143-hp 2.0-liter I4 lugging 2,982 lbs) and less than ideal gear ratios, and it's nothing you haven't experienced if you've driven any small car from the 1980s (or, yes, yes, our long-term Smart). And while not unbearable, the SX4 feels like a throwback -- perhaps to the Corolla All-Trac.
But recalibration of my right foot has begun, and I've started to take full advantage of the shifter's D-3-2-L setup. So perhaps even this annoyance will fade. I'll let you know Monday.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 6,448 miles
May 28, 2009
There is a lot to like about our 2009 Suzuki SX4. It's cute (I know you don't all agree), it's comfortable, it has good visibility, satellite radio, lots of nice features.
But it's painfully slow. Excruciatingly, frustratingly slow. For tooling around town on city streets, that's fine. When running errands, it holds all my crap, groceries, dry cleaning, potting soil, anything you can think of. It's easy to park. Lots of pluses.
But forget it on the highway. Merging into traffic, foot down, and it takes its sweet old time. I find myself yelling at it to hurry the heck up. When you finally get up to a comfortable cruising speed, the SX4 handles it without much vibration and noise. But try to pass a Camry and it stubbornly climbs the speedometer at a snail's pace.
Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor
May 04, 2009
It rained last Friday while I was out in our Suzuki SX4. Seeing as how rain is about the most extreme precipitation Southern California gets, I figured it'd be a good opportunity to test out our Suzuki SX4's all-wheel drive. The experience, I must say, was rather underwhelming.
The SX4 has selectable AWD (which in my book technically makes it four-wheel drive, just so you know.). For normal driving, you can put it in front-wheel drive or in automatic AWD -- for auto AWD, up to 50 percent of the engine's torque is applied to the rear wheels when front-wheel slippage is detected. There's also an "AWD Lock" position. Here, 30 to 50 percent of engine torque is constantly applied to the rear wheels. Suzuki recommends this setting for truly slippery conditions when driving at low speed.
While I still stand by my earlier argument that AWD is an advantage on wet roads if you're driving high-performance cars like our Evo, STI and GT-R, there's really no point to having an AWD SX4 if it's just raining. You're not exactly in need of extra traction during acceleration when there's just an automatic-equipped 143-horsepower engine under the hood.
The only time I actually got the rear wheels to engage was when I turned off the stability control and booted the throttle while exiting a slow-speed corner. Sure enough, the SX4 powered its way through the corner rather than spinning up its front tires with useless understeer. Fun? Sure. A common experience for the average SX4 buyer? Not so much.
March 25, 2009
Here's were I was going to poke fun of Suzuki for equipping this car with an archaic 4-speed automatic transmission. I was going to make some bad jokes like, "A 4-speed? Cool, my IROC Camaro has one too."
But I'm not.
Turns out I like the automatic transmission in our long-term 2009 Suzuki SX4. Sure it's geared a bit tall compared to the more modern five and six-speeds out there, but it's responsive enough that the gearing isn't a problem. This thing is never lazy with a throttle induced downshift, plus you can choose the gears yourself with this cool gated shifter.
Obviously designed by somebody like me, a guy that likes to shift his automatic manually, the Suzuki's simple shifter is proof that the manual gate found in most cars these days is nothing but marketing. In the old days (you know, the sixties, seventies and eighties and even the early nineties), every Mercedes had a gated shifter much like this. Even the 1992-1994 Mercedes 500E/E500, which is one of my favorites, had one. It worked then and it works great now.
No I'm not kidding. Look, you slide it to the left for the first gear down and pull it back for the second. Each shift, up or down, has a hard stop. Brilliant. Plus the shifter's action is nice and tight, as are the gear changes.
Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 3,444 miles
January 21, 2009
(Photo by Kurt Niebuhr)
0-60 (with 1 foot of rollout like on a dragstrip): 11.4
1/4 mile (ET / MPH): 18.3 @ 76.3
Comments: Yikes it's been quite a while since I've driven something this slow. It didn't matter what I did (esp on/off, brake torque or not) it produced 12-sec 0-60 times. Gear spacing seems quite wide for such a torque challenged vehicle.
60-0: 125 feet
30-0: 30 feet
Comments: Noticeable dive and ABS action, but good fade resistance.
Comments: Steering feels a little "springy", but offers some road feel as well. Understeers on the limit even in "Auto AWD" mode. Some marginal ability to rotate/steer with throttle.
Comments: Pretty lenient / sophisticated ESP system when on. Subtle and early corrections. Shutting it off, the rear will step-out considerably left in FWD, switching to Auto AWD settled it down a bit, but then you really need to know how to throttle while sliding. The mere fact that this is possible is pretty remarkable and says something about its tuning.
Tires: Bridgestone Turanza EL400 205/60R16 91H
Mike Magrath, Vehicle Testing Assistant @ 1,356 miles
January 20, 2009
About two years ago I wrote a full test of the Suzuki SX4 and thought it was charming.
Well, it hasn't changed much for 2009. It could still use more power for its weight. Merging onto the freeway is less than spectacular. But once it gets going, it's fine. It's more than adequate for skipping around town running errands. And with the rear seats folded, you get 54 cubic feet of cargo space.
I think it's cute as hell, especially in Vapor Blue Metallic.
Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor @ 2,244 miles